Hooray For Back-to-School Meet the Tester Night!

For six years, I have walked the life of a middle schooler at my children’s curriculum nights.

Some years, my husband and I conquered and divided, splitting up the night walking the walk when we had a sixth and an eighth grader. Last night we walked through my son’s eighth grade day by visiting each class in periods boiled down into 10 minute snippets.

In years past, teachers with a twinkle in their eye would discuss the actual  curriculum they covered in addition to how to get in touch with them and where to find the latest assignments online. In past years, teachers used their precious 10 minutes  to explain why they are passionate about teaching their subject to our children, something to which they have dedicated their life’s work. They went on about how they would rev up our child to learn about the Industrial Revolution, or get them juiced up about geometry.

They talked about TEACHING. Plain and simple.

Last night, something was different.  Last night, it seemed that the teachers in my beloved school district had been bitten by the dreaded TEACH TO THE TEST zombie.

With each class I visited with my husband, the evening was not about the curriculum, but making the grade. How much homework and classroom work counted toward the grade and most of all, how much those tests counted towards the grade. Suddenly, the school district that I have loved for its emphasis on academic excellence was more about how teachers were qualified to help our kids get the best grades possible.

Are academic excellence and excellent grades the same thing? Am I out of line for feeling this way?   After all, I live in one of the toughest and highly rated school districts in the country, right? The going should be tough, it SHOULD be about performance and grades, right?

Now, I know. This is school. This is hard work that’s being asked of my child and I am glad my child is being challenged, but I want teachers to challenge my kids to learn, not to feel pressure and anxiety about taking tests.

Maybe our teachers are not to blame for this shift in emphasis.

What scared me about last night is I had a feeling that suddenly in my district,  the teachers seem like they are  under the testing gun more than in years past. The teachers seem now to want our children to succeed not for their own sake of LEARNING, but to show their own accountability for how well our children perform on tests and labs so they can keep their jobs. Teaching jobs are hard to come by these days, that I understand and appreciate.

After last night, I gained a better handle as to why teachers in Chicago are striking. I got an even better handle on why the movie “The Race to Nowhere” needed to be made.

Perhaps the class with the most soul sucking sound was my child’s math class.  A cold fish of a woman with mousey brown hair prattled on about maintaining not a PASSING grade in this almost double-accelerated class, but a 85-90 percent grade to stay in the class. The word assessment came from her mouth almost two dozen times. Not once did she talk about how she was going to teach to me this most difficult subject to GET my kid and the kids of others EXCITED enough to learn and get this grade. I suddenly felt like a middle school student all over again in math, anxiously waiting for the bell to ring so could BOLT!

After math was technology, the final class of the evening. I had had it. All I wanted to do was blow this class off, not caring if I would get a detention for cutting. All I wanted to do was to go home and crawl under the covers, thanking the Lord I was no longer a middle school student.

So glad I stuck around.

Waiting for us outside his classroom was my son’s tech teacher.

“You coming in? Excellent!” He beamed.

I won’t say his name, but this man talked about his life. He talked about growing up in his dad’s auto mechanic shop and how he fiddled with car engines. In this class, they were going to MAKE and DESIGN stuff! Grow hydroponic plants! Use design and mechanic techniques that required precision and discipline to make a product!  Yes, there would be homework and tests, but these benchmarks took a back seat to the teacher’s EXCITEMENT about what he was going to teach to our children.

So glad I didn’t cut your class, Mr. Tech teacher.

After we got home, I guess you can say I was in a crummy mood. I argued with my husband as we lay in bed about my seemingly bad-ass negative attitude about middle school. On a whole, weren’t the teachers lovely and didn’t they convey to us what our son would learn that year? My husband. I love him because he is the glass half full kind of guy. Yes, maybe.

I finally fell asleep. Only to be woken by my eighth grade son at 2 a.m.  His throat was killing him and he had a cough that sounded like a sick seal. Felt his head. No fever.

“Honey, you sound sick, and if you feel this way this morning, we are going to the doctor.”


“Okay, how about coming home after school and missing track practice. You need your rest.”


Those last two sentences, fear-filled sentences about missing even a day of school, even an HOUR of school to go to the doctor, confirmed my feelings about curriculum night.

I gave him a cough drop and a kiss on his head and sent him to bed. But I can’t say that I slept well.

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About stacylynngittleman

I have been a reporter and public relations professional for over 30 years, specializing in profile features and investigative longform writing. During my career I've profiled WWII Honor Flight Veterans, artists and musicians and have written on topics that range from environmental and gun control issues to Jewish culture. Click around on my writing samples plus read my blog on my personal life raising three kids over 27 years and three cities.

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